Vikram Doc­tor

The Economic Times - - President’s Men -

When BK Nehru (BKN) be­came Gov­er­nor of As­sam and Na­ga­land in 1968, he wrote in his en­ter­tain­ing and can­did mem­oirs, Nice Guys Fin­ish Sec­ond, “I re­ally did not have the fog­gi­est idea of what a Gov­er­nor did, how he lived, what he was paid and what his po­si­tion was.”

BKN’s dilemma was un­der­stand­able. Right from when the po­si­tion was de­bated in the Con­stituent Assem­bly of In­dia there has been am­bi­gu­ity on this. The Gov­er­nor per­son­i­fies the In­dian State within each state, as the Pres­i­dent does in the coun­try as a whole. But as BKN noted, un­like the Pres­i­dent, whose mostly cer­e­mo­nial role is clear, clause (2) of Ar­ti­cle 163 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, states that there are cir­cum­stances – like the one in which Vidyasagar Rao, Gov­er­nor of Tamil Nadu now finds him­self – when “the Gov­er­nor is by or un­der this Con­sti­tu­tion re­quired to act in his dis­cre­tion” and the de­ci­sions he or she takes at this dis­cre­tion are to be treated as fi­nal and can­not be chal­lenged. This would seem to give the Gov­er­nor real pow­ers and it is why the Con­stituent Assem­bly de­bated mak­ing the po­si­tion an elected one. But In­dia was al­ready com­mit­ted to a model of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy like the United King­dom’s and this did not al­low for con­flict be­tween two elected po­si­tions at the top. The UK avoided the is­sue by hav­ing a hered­i­tary monarch as head of State and coun­tries like Aus­tralia and Canada did too – pro­vin­cial heads of state in both places are vice-re­gents for the Crown.

In­dia had to cre­ate its own norms. But the Con­stituent Assem­bly was also hand­i­capped by not hav­ing a clear idea what form the new coun­try would take at a fed­eral level. The Bri­tish had be­queathed a com­pli­cated patch­work of prov­inces, agen­cies (more di­rectly ad­min­is­tered, like the North East Fron­tier Agency), princely states of con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent sizes and for­eign en­claves, like Pondicherry, that were likely to be as­sim­i­lated, but ex­actly how was still to be deter­mined.

It was not sur­pris­ing then that the Assem­bly felt that this amor­phous na­tion needed ex­tra power at the fed­eral level to help it stick to­gether. Al­ter­nate struc­tures could have been de­vised where heads of state and gov­ern­ment com­bine for greater strength. Ger­man states for ex­am­ple are run by Min­is­ter-Pres­i­dents who are both, while South Africa has an ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent who is elected by Par­lia­ment (he or she must be an elected MP, but quits on be­com­ing Pres­i­dent). But th­ese struc­tures re­flect the par­tic­u­lar his­to­ries of th­ese coun­tries and how they wrote their con­sti­tu­tions. In­dia chose to de­velop its struc­tures firmly in a frame­work of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy. BK N r e c a l le d adv ic e g iven by C. Ra­jagopalachari (Ra­jaji), erst­while pre­mier of Madras Pres­i­dency and the last Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral of In­dia. He had said a Gov­er­nor was like a fed­eral fire­man: “If all went well had noth­ing to do. Only if there was a fire was he called upon to put it out.” Fire­men are vi­tal, but we rarely think about or in­ter­act with them on a daily ba­sis – even though they want us to, al­ways want­ing to do fire drills – and this was how the Gov­er­nor’s role had de­vel­oped. BKN noted the case of Jairam­dass Daula­tram, the first post-In­de­pen­dence Gov­er­nor of Bi­har: “He said he could not pre­side over a state where all kinds of cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and breaches of the law were tak­ing place with­out be­ing able to do some­thing about it.” But his ac­tivist at­tempts was thwarted by Bi­har’s gov­ern­ment which did not send him all the pa­pers. Daula­tram felt this was a breach of his con­sti­tu­tional rights and ap­pealed to the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment. “Val­lab­hai Pa­tel and Ma­hatma Gandhi him­self sup­ported the Gov­er­nor. Jawa­har­lal and Govind Bal­labh Pant did not. The case was fi­nally de­cided in favour of the Chief Min­is­ter. Jairam­dass Daula­tram re­signed.” This would seem to clearly mark the lim­its of a Gov­er­nor. C h i e f Mi n i s t e r s might choose to in­for m a nd consu lt with them, but don’t have to. Of course, as ob­servers noted, a CM who kept the Gov­er­nor in the dark was invit­ing him to seek news from other, op­pos­ing sources. But if a CM was al­ready dis­in­clined to dis­trust a Gov­er­nor, this would just fuel his feel­ings, leav­ing the two even more apart. And the stage was set for ex­actly this in the 1960s as non-Congress gov­ern­ments started com­ing to power in the states.

The politi­ci­sa­tion of the Gov­er­nor’s of­fice has been de­bated and de­plored to death. Rul­ing par­ties have de­nied it, op­pos­ing par­ties have de­cried it and sug­gested it as grounds to abol­ish the Gov­er­nor’s of­fice al­to­gether, po­lit­i­cal writ­ers – in­clud­ing a great many ex-Gov­er­nors who all seem to find prob­lems with the po­si­tion once they leave of­fice – have writ­ten at ex­treme length about the trend and sug­gested ways to solve the prob­lem, like com­pli­cated pan­els to se­lect Gov­er­nors or ways to elect them.

No­ne­ofthe­se­haveev­er­sound­ed­con­vinc­ing be­cause, re­ally, the is­sue is sim­ple: if the po­si­tion has any po­lit­i­cal power then politi­cians will find some way to in­flu­ence it be­cause that is the na­ture of pol­i­tics. The first at­tempts to use the Gov­er­nor for po­lit­i­cal ends were done by the Congress, with the BJP, in its Jan Sangh avatar protest­ing stren­u­ously. On April 27th, 1969 the Jan Sangh’s pres­i­dent, Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee spoke at a pub­lic meet­ing at Chow­patty beach in Mumbai de­mand­ing the Supreme Court

de­ter­mine the Gov­er­nor’s dis­cre­tionary pow­ers and that an in­ter­State com­mis­sion was set up to look into this. Court cases have taken place and the Sarkaria Com­mis­sion made rec­om­men­da­tions and to­day it is the Congress protest­ing, and BJP de­fend­ing, the ac­tions of Gov­er­nors.

Not en­tirely sur­pris­ingly, such protests and de­fences have a largely rit­u­al­is­tic air. In the in­creas­ingly politi­cised world of to­day, the politi­ci­sa­tion of the Gov­er­nor’s po­si­tion has pretty much been ac­cepted as in­evitable – but made eas­ier per­haps by the recog­ni­tion that this is it­self con­strained by pol­i­tics. The rise of strong re­gional par­ties puts a check of sorts on the ex­tent to which a Gov­er­nor can re­ally push the agenda of the Cen­tre – be­cause that would hand the re­gional par­ties a per­fect op­pos­ing pitch. The cur­rent drama in Tamil Nadu is a good ex­am­ple. Gov­er­nor Rao, whose deep BJP roots have been noted by all, might well want to in­crease the party’s inf lu­ence in the state by back­ing ei­ther side with prom­ises of how the Cen­tre can sup­port the win­ning fac­tion. But this would hand a per­fect campaigning slo­gan to the op­po­si­tion in a state where the Dra­vid­ian move­ment is al­ready strongly in­clined to op­pose many parts of the pri­mar­ily North In­dian BJP. While Tamil Nadu is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive on this score, it’s not hard to see sim­i­lar pol­i­tics play­ing out in other states. If the Gov­er­nor can nei­ther be im­mune from pol­i­tics, nor par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive at ad­vanc­ing a po­lit­i­cal agenda, why bother with the po­si­tion at all? Is there a case for mov­ing to a more Ger­man style sys­tem where pro­vin­cial heads of gov­ern­ment re­port di­rectly to the fed­eral, mostly cer­e­mo­nial head of state? But what might work in the sta­ble pol­i­tics of Ger­many might come apart in the chaos of In­dia, where Tamil Nadu style tur­moil is com­mon, and would over­whelm a sin­gle Pres­i­dent’s abil­ity to cope.

In­ter­me­di­aries still seem needed to cope with sit­u­a­tions like Tamil Nadu, but here is where Gov­er­nor Rao’s ac­tions might seem to point to some use­ful changes. The re­ally un­usual part that he has been play­ing is to be the Gov­er­nor of not just one, but two large states, both with a fair po­ten­tial for po­lit­i­cal churn. And if Rao can han­dle Ma­ha­rash­tra and Tamil Nadu (and even find it use­ful, given how he seems to tac­ti­cally move be­tween the states), why can’t other Gov­er­nors com­bine their roles? This has hap­pened in the past, though only in mi­nor, tem­po­rary ways. BKN’s po­si­tion as, es­sen­tia l ly, Gov­er­nor for most of the North­east was not un­com­mon and in his mem­oirs he de­plores the way it was bro­ken up. A sin­gle Gov­er­nor for the re­gion could take a holis­tic view of its re­quire­ments, and also al­low con­sid­er­able economies of scale. Per­haps it is time to go back to this prac­tice, ex­tend­ing it over In­dia, with just a hand­ful of Gov­er­nors each han­dling a re­gion.

To use that Ra­jaji’s anal­ogy of fire bri­gades, cities re­quire them, but not one on ev­ery street. And hav­ing just a few, per­haps openly po­lit­i­cal, but en­gaged and com­pe­tent Gov­er­nors might be the next stage in the evo­lu­tion of the of­fice.

The politi­ci­sa­tion of the Gov­er­nor’s po­si­tion has pretty much been ac­cepted as in­evitable and is back in fo­cus with the on­go­ing drama in Tamil Nadu. looks at how the role has evolved


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